Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek announced plans Thursday to create what she’s calling the “Early Literacy Educator Preparation Council.”
“Literacy is the foundation for learning, yet far too many students are not getting the intentional literacy support and experiences they need,” Kotek said in a press release shared Thursday.
“We can and must do more to prepare new educators for teaching every student to read and write.”
Kotek has made early literacy a focus of her first six months in office. She supports a bill that would invest $120 million in strategies to improve reading across the state.
That bill, Senate Bill 3198, is in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
How students learn to read has become a source of increased debate, in Oregon and across the country. In the last several months, podcasts and reports have shown student achievement in reading declining in recent years.
Less than 40% of Oregon third graders are reading at grade level, according to state testing results from 2021-22. In the 2015-16 school year, it was closer to 50%.
Parents and community members have made improved reading instruction a focus, calling out districts for the way they teach reading and advocating for instruction based on the “science of reading,” which emphasizes a systematic approach to phonics. But decisions around instruction — and how to teach reading — have mostly been left up to individual colleges and school districts.
Colleges in Oregon take different approaches to how they prepare their future teachers when it comes to reading instruction. Some school districts choose curriculum that focuses on phonics, and while the Oregon Department of Education has a list of approved curricula, it does not mandate districts use a reading curriculum from the state list.
Kotek has tasked the new council with coming up with a more consistent approach to reading instruction statewide. The council is expected to recommend changes to standards for educator preparation programs and to teacher licensing requirements.
No more than 20 people will make up the council, with representation from the governor’s office, the Oregon Department of Education, representatives from public and private teacher prep programs, early literacy experts, teachers, elementary school principals and others.
Kotek wants the recommendations to strengthen the standards that guide reading and writing instruction received by elementary school students in Oregon. They must follow the Oregon Department of Education’s Early Literacy Framework, which will be released May 30.
“Instruction must be grounded in culturally responsive instructional practices, based on research derived from the science of reading and writing, and designed for students with disabilities and students who are emerging bilingual learners,” according to the press release from Kotek’s office announcing the council.
The 71-page preliminary draft of the literacy framework states the plan will “build statewide coherence, clarity, and common ground” while also directing school and district leaders how to improve literacy.
The executive order lays out a relatively short timeline for the council’s work: By December, the council should develop the recommendations for teacher preparation programs. By March 2024, recommendations on revisions to teacher licensing requirements are expected.
And by June 30, 2024, the council should present a plan for new licensing standards for the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission. Also no later than June 30 of next year, the council is expected to present an “implementation plan and timeline for developing the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of educator preparation program faculty to support research-aligned literacy instruction aimed at eliminating disparities and achieving equity in literacy outcomes.”
Applications to the council will be open until June 23.